Tuesday, October 06, 2009
This week we are about to celebrate the forty-seventh anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council. Pope (now Blessed) John XXIII convened the council with the anticipation that the Catholic Church of the 20th century would prayerfully and spiritually begin an introspective examination of all aspects of the Church’s life and relationship to the modern world. The opening words of the Pope’s address to the assembled Church Fathers set the tone with the phrase, “Holy Mother Church rejoices, “ and the pivotal council of the 20th century began in earnest.
When one considers the far reaching implications of the Second Vatican Council, one realizes that we are really still involved with the tasks envisioned by John XXIII in the 21st century. One usually remembers the changes in the Catholic liturgy and the introduction of the vernacular as the consummate examples of modernization brought about by the Council. However, the effects of the Council are more deeply rooted in the deepest expressions of our faith, the manners in which we celebrate the Sacred Mysteries and the developing message of Christ’s message in an ever complex and changing world.
The epoch surrounding the beginning sessions of Vatican II indeed had a post World War II society to consider, the chilling reality of the Cold War and the collapse of colonialism all over the planet. In addition to these considerations, there were events to follow that constituted chronological touchstones that would forever change the directions of global political and social expectations, namely the murders of American political figures in the sixties, the escalation of the Vietnam War and the social upheavals associated with all of these events. Catholicism quite honestly was not the same religion of our parents and grandparents and young Catholics expected the Church to be more inclusive of its social obligations to an ever shrinking global community of international faith and worldwide sensitivities.
The dawn of the Second Vatican Council produced within the Catholic Church the spirit of aggiornamento(bringing up to date), which suggested a new spirit of Catholic inclusion in its sacramental and secular mission, that embraced the technological wonders of the post war world as it tried to live the spirit of Christ’s Gospels with renewed zeal and holiness. Critical to the Second Vatican Council’s plan for success was the establishment of the Pontifical Office for Social Communications, which was entrusted with the mission of using modern methods of television, radio and satellite communications to assist in the ministry of spreading the Word of God in the most efficient and global manner with emerging technologies of the 20th century. The Catholic Church embraced the media as key components of the apostolic ministry and the Gospel truly was preached in a more global manner thanks to the introduction of the local vernacular languages and revised interactive liturgies.
At the same time the Council embraced the enhanced usage of global technologies, our appreciation of the physical representations of our sacred signs and symbols also received a much needed updating with new examples of artistic design in our liturgical spaces and Churches. Modern designs for Churches, new interpretations of hagiography, incorporation of local representational art enhanced our celebration of the Sacred Rites. In the rush to implement the changes and modernization of the Council sometimes the most critical appreciation for the deep heritage and traditions of our ancient faith were dismissed or even destroyed as the Catholic Church tried to implement the openness of the Second Vatican Council.
Now forty-seven years later the Catholic Church is at an important crossroads that demands attention and even intervention that will permit us as a growing People of God to reexamine the manner in which we celebrate our most sacred rites, express our liturgical heritage and acclaim the mysteries of our vast artistic and cultural Catholic heritage.
Since the pontificate of John XXIII, we have had four men inherit the mantle of Saint Peter. All of these men were present in some capacity at the Second Vatican Council and our current Holy Father, Benedict XVI was a theological expert present during the concilliar sessions. One of the most influential actions of his nascent papacy was Benedict’s permission to restore the Mass of Blessed John XXIII as a legitimate option for liturgical celebration in our Catholic Churches throughout the world. In effect, the Mass prior to the changes of Vatican II, was once again permitted a place in our perpetual adage of, lex orandi, lex credendi and the living Church has come full circle in it’s liturgical development. The restoration of this form of the liturgy signifies the desire that Pope Benedict exhibits towards liturgical continuity and an appreciation of the organic development that naturally has evolved in the rich heritage of the Roman Rite. The notion of growth and development in our appreciation for the “Latin liturgy,” restores the overlapping sense of liturgical continuity that does not place the Novus Ordo and the Mass of Blessed John XXIII in contention, but indeed enhances an appreciation of the liturgy from the most basic cellular integration in relationship to the entire Body of Christ’s Church. The ability of the Church to permit another form of liturgical expression allows 21st century Catholics the opportunity to experience a ritual manifestation with the Mass of Blessed John XXIII which expresses the fluidic continuity of the Church Militant, the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering in this rite of sacrifice instituted by the Council of Trent.
As a result, we need to develop a particular sensitivity to the living, developing and yet ancient and ritualistic aspects of our Roman Liturgy when we design and build our Catholic Churches. Perhaps it is the most appropriate time for us to make our Catholic Churches once again a place of prayer and sacrifice in addition to a place for the celebration of our communal reenactment of Christ’s Last Supper. The design we should embrace should include the solemnity and ritual space that is demanded by the Mass of Blessed John XXIII, and the celebratory and inclusive Mass of Paul VI with equal fervor and structural compatibility.
With the coexistence of the option of celebrating both forms of the Mass, Churches need to incorporate designs that permit both rites equal availability of celebration. Spaces should be designed that incorporate the artistic and cultural heritages of our extensive repository of faith, pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II. Realistically, the sanctuary should be a place that is “outside of chronological time,” and allows us to worship as a faithful Church is God’s time, kairos, namely, “time, outside of time, sacred time!” The Sacred Mysteries of our Sacraments demand an organic integration in our holiest of places, our Catholic Churches that clearly identify the character of our Church as, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic in its intrinsic nature. The faithful community needs not only to be made aware of the communal nature of our sacred rites, but also the spiritual transcendence, noncorporeal nature and worship of God’s glory that are inherent to all of our liturgical celebrations.
For the most part, the design and implementation of our Catholic Churches has forsaken the notion of transcendence and appreciation of the sacred with our obviously human-centric examples of liturgical theater that sometimes distract the worshiper from prayer to a transcendent God and rely on secular modifications and inclusions of entertainment into the liturgy rather than appreciations of the Transsubstantial Mystery of the Eucharist.
The results of the Second Vatican Council clearly indicate the Catholic Church was long overdue in the adoption of methodologies of the 20th century. However, the effects on the Church continue to manifest some issues regarding the continuous loss of authentic Catholic identity. In the post-Vatican II Catholic Church there has been a significant demise of the signs and symbols that uniquely identify our faith. The line that theologically divides us from other post-Reformation Christian groups continues to erode under the guise of ecumenism and Christian inclusion. The roles of priest and laity are often in juxtaposition as the laity becomes more clericalized in their participation, and the clergy are abdicating their roles to of Celebrant and Priest to the more semantically pleasant terms of Presider and Minister.
The liturgical texts have had causalities as well in the decades since Vatican II. The basic translations of the Latin texts of the Liturgy have been cannibalized into the banality of all inclusive terms. Men are no longer men, but many; sons of God are now People of God; Mary has in some cases evolved into a conglomeration of Our Mother/Our Father and even the most basic translation of the Creed has been transformed into a collective consensus of what, “We believe, (Credimus)” rather than the rudimentary derivative of the Latin (Credo), “I believe. We have quite a bit of work ahead of us in the Catholic Church to resolve the intrusions of secular modernism into our Catholic liturgy. Thankfully, the spirit is reviving that permits the rectification of many linguistic, artistic and architectural disambiguations that have plagued us since 1962.
The papacy of Benedict XVI clearly provides an opportunity for Catholic introspection and prayerful appreciation of all of the Church’s gifts for the modern world. One method that would inspire a more complete examination of our journey since Vatican II is to study and reread all of the documents associated with the Council. The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) is a remarkable and insightful proclamation of the Church’s role in global society. Lumen Gentium the Constitution on the Church is a monumental and most significant declaration on the Church’s essence and nature. Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation provides a wealth of teachings on the revelation of the Word of God to the world.
Vatican II chronologically came to a conclusion decades ago. However, we are still living in the transformational currents of the Council’s waves. With forty-seven years of hindsight Catholics throughout the world have the chance to more fully incorporate the teachings and admonitions of the Council’s vision. During the decades of change for the sake of change, modernization for the sake of secular modernism and iconoclastic vandalism need to come to an end. As a Catholic Church, we need to revisit the great vision of aggiornamento in all aspects of our faith and work diligently towards building a temporal Catholic Church worthy of our transcendent and eternal Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.